The Bill Self statement that resonated most loudly at the team banquet came in reference to Malik Newman, who practiced with Kansas last season after transferring from Mississippi State.
“I’ll be disappointed if Malik’s not an all-league or All-American player next year,” Self said.
The KU coach ought to know an All-American when he sees one.
Kansas has had a remarkable run of Associated Press All-Americans since Sherron Collins became Self’s first Kansas recruit to earn the distinction with third-team honors in 2009.
That started a run of 12 All-Americans in the past nine seasons, a run in which at least one Jayhawk was named first, second or third-team All-American by AP in every season except 2015.
Devonte’ Graham also has the potential to land on an All-American team as a senior.
Of the 12 Self Kansas recruits honored by the AP, five were seniors (Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Jeff Withey, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason), four juniors (Collins, Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson), three freshmen (Ben McLemore, Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson).
A year-by-year breakdown of All-Americans in Self’s 14 seasons:
2017: Mason, first team; Jackson, third team.
2016: Ellis, second team.
2014: Wiggins, second team.
2013: McLemore, second team; Withey, third team.
2012: Robinson, first team; Taylor, third team.
2011: Marcus Morris, second team.
2010: Collins, second team; Aldrich, third team.
2009: Collins, third team.
2005: Wayne Simien, first team.
2004: Simien, third team.
He played in just 11 games, went scoreless in two and scored in double figures in just one, yet even at that, Udoka Azubuike left no doubt that he will have a lengthy NBA future and earn tens of millions of dollars playing basketball.
If I had my choice of skimming 1 percent of career earnings from any player eligible to compete in games next season for Kansas, I would choose Azubuike, even ahead of guard Malik Newman.
The pool of 7-foot, 280-pound athletes with nimble feet, pretty sure hands and a zest for punishing rims is quite shallow.
Speaking at the program’s annual banquet, KU's Hall of Fame coach Bill Self called Azubuike, “probably the most talented big guy that we’ve had here in a long, long time, other than Joel (Embiid).”
Self added that Azubuike’s trajectory “is off the charts,” reminding the audience that the big man won’t turn 18 until next Sept. 17.
“When he was hurt, we thought that was a huge blow because he’s going to be so darn good,” Self said.
Azubuike totaled six points and 12 rebounds in 15 minutes vs. Duke, overpowered a short UNC-Asheville with 17 points in 23 minutes, and in 11 games blocked 18 shots in 142 minutes.
More often than not, he dunked, and hadn’t developed enough shooting skill to do any better than .379 from the free-throw line. The good side of that coin is that he hangs out close to the basket and doesn’t entertain any guard fantasies.
Azubuike showed great potential and raw edges during his 11 games, but it's not as if he's been playing video games all year without learning anything that will help him next season.
"From him sitting through every scouting report and making him a part of everything that's going on, I think he definitely understands the game better than he did, without question," Self said.
If Azubuike can become a respectable free-throw shooter, eliminating Hack-A-Dok as a defensive strategy, he'll be extremely difficult to guard and quickly become more than just a shot-blocking, rebounding force. He's a very exciting prospect.
If he continues to struggle mightily from the line, Azubuike ought to consider shooting free throws underhanded. Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry, two Hall of Fame perennial All-Stars, weren't too proud to do it.
Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson became the 20th McDonald’s All-American recruited to Kansas by Bill Self.
That’s a big number for a coach entering his 15th season, but the favorite to become Self’s first Kansas recruit to earn the honor of selection to play in the NBA All-Star game was not a McDonald’s honoree.
A look at the players with the best chance to become Self’s first All-Star Jayhawk:
1 - Joel Embiid: He has played just 31 games in three seasons since leaving Kansas, where he played 28 games and averaged 23.1 minutes.
Embiid played in 31 games for the Philadelphia 76ers this season before shutting it down to have a torn meniscus in his left knee repaired.
After missing two seasons with a career-threatening foot injury, Embiid was put on a minutes restriction and still managed to produce All-Star-caliber numbers for the Sixers.
Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game.
Even if the Sixers continue to watch his minutes next season, he has a strong shot to become an All-Star.
2 - Josh Jackson: Rookies seldom make a big enough splash to earn All-Star status and it likely will take Jackson a few years to reach that level of recognition, but he’s such a nasty competitor and versatile performer that it’s easy to project him quickly becoming an NBA star.
3 - Andrew Wiggins: Averaging 23.7 points per game, Wiggins loves to shoot, but doesn’t seem terribly interested in rebounding (4.1 per game) or passing (2.2 assists). Heading into the season finale vs. Oklahoma City, Wiggins is shooting .454 and has a chance to finish a season with more assists (182) than turnovers (181).
It takes more than scoring a lot of points for a bad team to earn All-Star recognition, so unless Wiggins expands his game, even if that means shrinking his scoring average, he’s not likely to become Self’s first Kansas All-Star.
4 - The rest: The Morris twins are productive, versatile NBA players, but haven’t quite played to the level they merit consideration for the honor. Markieff has started 242 of 448 NBA games, including all 76 games this season with the Washington Wizards. Marcus has started 218 of 416, including all 159 in his two seasons with the Detroit Pistons.
Malik Newman? Dedric Lawson? If they develop into pros of that caliber, someone else likely will have beaten them to All-Star status.
McDonald’s All-Americans recruited to Kansas by Self:
Cole Aldrich, Cliff Alexander, Darrell Arthur, Udoka Azubuike, Carlton Bragg, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Cheick Diallo, Micah Downs, Perry Ellis, Xavier Henry, Josh Jackson, Newman, Kelly Oubre, Billy Preston, Josh Selby, Wayne Selden, Wiggins, Julian Wright.
Only someone whose vision was blinded by crimson-and-blue lenses couldn't see Carlton Bragg's transfer coming. He wasn't the right player for Bill Self and Self wasn't the right coach for him.
A Hall of Fame coach doesn't change his style to accommodate one player or he risks losing the rest of the team. You don't even do that for a productive player. Self's style has worked well enough for him to win 13 Big 12 titles in a row, reach the Elite Eight in 50 percent of his seasons, go 3-1 in the Final Four and bring Kansas its first national title since 1988. It just didn't work for Bragg, who took a backward step as a sophomore.
Here's hoping that whatever else other than a hit to his confidence that made Bragg's hands worse, his shots from the perimeter more tentative, his attention to detail shaky, can be solved in his next stop. He didn't play much on the perimeter as a sophomore because his size was needed in the paint, especially after the injury to Udoka Azubuike, but even when he did shoot from the outside, he didn't do so with the same confidence. He shot with one eye on the rim, the other looking over his shoulder in the direction of the bench.
Bragg remains a basketball prospect, but this is the big leagues. And he's had two seasons to try to figure out how to hit the curveballs that come with competing at the highest level and continued to look lost, Kansas couldn't afford to keep taking chances on a player still in need of minor-league seasoning. He was a Double-A pitcher with a 95 mph who didn't trust his stuff enough to throw strikes.
If any doubt remained as to whether Bragg would return for a third season, it all vanished when he didn't get off the bench in the loss to Oregon that denied Kansas a spot in the Final Four.
Other signs surfaced long before that. Guards sometimes would drive into the lane, see Bragg as an available target and either consciously or subconsciously remember a dropped pass from the past and wisely decide to put up a shot instead.
Here's hoping Bragg, who runs the floor well for a big man and has a soft shooting touch from the perimeter, can find a school where he can showcase his perimeter skills and face the sort of competition that will enable him to develop into a prolific rebounder. Kansas wasn't that school and never was going to become it.
KU's future became brighter with Thursday's announcement as did Bragg's chances at becoming a better basketball player.
Sometimes, everybody wins.
Kansas is still recruiting a point guard and for the moment has 11 players on scholarship. A look at the best-case scenario in terms of what the 11 players can do to help Kansas to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament in 2018:
1 - Malik Newman: Take into games the great scoring potential he showed in practice this past season, use his terrific athleticism and turn it into defensive ability. No reason the 6-foot-3 guard who transferred from Mississippi State can't be Big 12 player of the year.
2 - Devonte’ Graham: More of the same, but with more consistent drives to the hoop to make defenses collapse. Graham typically guarded the other team’s best perimeter scorer and in the first three games of the NCAA tournament made 13 of 22 3-pointers.
3 - Udoka Azubuike: Get into the best shape of his life. If he can build enough stamina to be able to get up and down the court well enough to keep up with the team’s rapid pace, the rest will take care of itself. His blend of quickness for a man his size, soft shooting touch, and feel for blocking shots all mean that with experience he’ll develop into a dominant college center.
4 - Billy Preston: Embrace Josh Jackson’s win-every-possession-at-both-ends mentality. He’s a big man who has guard skills, but he’s coming to a school where that’s not going to blow anybody away. Kansas has had plenty of big men who handled the ball and shot like guards, but only the ones willing to do the little things and get their noses dirty became productive, popular, winning forces. The sooner Preston realizes that, the sooner he’ll fit in.
5 - Svi Mykhailiuk: Increase on hard, late-season drives he took out of hiding, and when hot from the perimeter, demand the ball.
6 - Lagerald Vick: Steer clear of trouble off the court, and cure one strange recurring problem as a shooter. Does anybody remember a player who on 3-pointers from the corner hits the side of the backboard as frequently as Vick? Maybe he’s standing too close to the baseline. Anyway, he has a nice shooting touch and he’s such a quick leaper and has a chance to make a big leap forward as a junior. No reason he can’t get a ton of steals.
7 - Sam Cunliffe: In 10 games for Arizona State, he averaged 25.4 minutes, shot .405 from 3-point range and should be able to join the rotation as soon as he’s eligible at the end of the first semester.
8 - Marcus Garrett: He can earn playing time by becoming as strong a defender as possible as quickly as possible. It sounds as if he knows that, so it will be interesting to see him chase minutes.
9 - Dwight Coleby: His knee should be stronger, which is good because he’ll be needed to lend muscle off the bench.
10 - Mitch Lightfoot: He’ll find a way to contribute because he obviously cares and embraces physical approach to the game.
11 - Carlton Bragg: Transfer. That’s his best path to getting his career back on track.
Josh Jackson played in 35 of Kansas’ 36 games and worked his way into the freshman record book in various places.
Jackson ranks third in points (572) behind Andrew Wiggins (597) and Ben McLemore (589) and second in scoring average (16.3) behind Wiggins (17.1).
Jackson tied Danny Manning for the all-time rebounding lead with 258, good for fifth in rebounding average (7.4) behind Joel Embiid (8.1), Manning (7.6), Drew Gooden (7.5) and Raef LaFrentz (7.5).
Jackson’s 37 blocks tie him for sixth with Cliff Alexander, well shy of Embiid’s freshman record of 72.
Had Jackson not been suspended, there’s a good chance he would have finished as the leading freshman scorer and rebounder in Kansas history. Jackson might have been the difference for KU against TCU in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, which would have earned him and the team a spot in the semifinals. In that scenario, Jackson would have needed 26 points in the two extra games to surpass Wiggins.
On the brink of a long NBA career, Jackson isn’t likely to spend much time thinking about that lost opportunity.
Draftexpress.com projects Jackson as the third selection in the June NBA draft, behind freshman point guards Markelle Fultz of Washington and Lonzo Ball from UCLA.
The NBA rookie salary scale for 2017-18 mandates that the third selection of the first round earns $4,090,900 as a rookie and $4,275,000 in his second season.
The first pick gets $5,091,500 the first season, $5,320,600 the second.
The first-year salary doesn’t drop below $3 million until the seventh pick. Jackson has a better chance of going first than seventh.
Since the worst teams pick first, chances are good those teams lack every-possession intensity and attention to detail that are part of all winning cultures. Jackson brings those qualities, which makes him a nice first piece in changing a team’s losing culture.
The weighted NBA draft lottery that determines the order in which teams select is set for May 16 and the draft is June 22.
The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and possibly the Chicago Bulls will have ping pong balls in the lottery, which gives Jackson a good shot at landing in one of the nation’s three largest markets, where his charisma would make his earning potential explode.
Jackson’s hometown Detroit Pistons, Joel Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves of Wiggins, Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush also are lottery-bound.
In one sense, the luckiest draft prospect will go to the Boston Celtics, who have the second-best record in the East and have the right to swap picks with the lowly Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics' pick won't have to wait for a team to develop to enjoy NBA playoff basketball.
The Associated Press released Wednesday a top 100 college basketball ranking based on appearances in its weekly poll, which started in Jan., 1949 when St. Louis University became the first school ranked No. 1.
The AP awarded one point for an appearance in the poll, which ranked the top 20 teams from 1949 to midway through the 1960-61 season; reduced the list to a top 10; then went back to top 20 for the 1968-69 season through 1987-88; top 25 since. Two points were awarded for a No. 1 ranking.
The top 10 performers in the all-time AP poll:
1 - Kentucky (1,111 points, 124 No. 1 rankings, 75.37 percent of all polls)
2 - North Carolina (1,098/110/76.68)
3 - Duke (1,032/129/67.6)
4 - UCLA (957/134/60.17)
5 - Kansas (857/65/63.49)
6 - Indiana (662/54/48.38)
7 - Louisville (627/2/54.41)
8 - Arizona (594/37/45.41)
9 - Syracuse (581/17/47.77)
10 - Cincinnati (500/45/35.81)
The AP also included the date of a school’s first ranking, its best and worst full decades and a “poll point” sentence or two on each school in the top 100.
Other Big 12 schools to make the top 100: 20 - Oklahoma, 34 Oklahoma State, 36 - Texas, 42 - West Virginia, 44 - Kansas State, 53 - Iowa State, 71 - Baylor.
TCU and Texas Tech did not make the cut.
The AP doesn’t release a poll after the NCAA tournament, so this ranking system does not take into account national titles.
The formula revealed the 1990s as KU’s best poll-performing decade, although if this decade continues on its current pace, it will eclipse the ‘90s. The 1960s, in which Kansas appeared in just 30.14 percent of the polls was listed as the worst decade.
Kansas has the nation’s longest active poll-appearance streak, appearing in every top 25 since Feb. 2, 2009.
Of all the numbers listed next to the 100 schools, Louisville earning the No. 1 spot in the poll just twice has to be the most amazing. The Cardinals’ first No. 1 ranking (March 16, 2009) came in the 520th poll in which they were ranked. UCLA has the most No. 1 rankings with 134 and Kansas has the fifth-most with 65.
Mike Vest, formerly of the Atlantic 10 Conference and the Big Ten Network and a graduate of the University of Kansas, took to Twitter (@mike_vest) to poke holes in the notion that Kansas has underachieved in the NCAA basketball tournament under coach Bill Self, who has reached the Elite Eight in half of his 14 seasons, been to two Final Fours and won a national championship in 2008.
1/ On KU & Self as 'underachievers': Does it feel like it? Sure. Do the numbers bear that out? Not really. Here are facts: pic.twitter.com/seBFbCQQMo— Mike Vest (@mike_vest) March 26, 2017
Kansas has earned a No. 1 seed in 7 of 11 seasons, a remarkable feat, and, of course, has an active regular-season conference winning streak of 13. Vest’s research also revealed that KU’s performance as a No. 1 seed is pretty much in line with the national average.
2/ In Self era, KU is 21-6 as 1-seed (78%). Everyone else as 1-seed: 163-39 (81%).— Mike Vest (@mike_vest) March 26, 2017
Vest also tweeted that No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four 35.7 percent of the time. Kansas under Self as a No. 1 seed seven times checks in at 28.6 percent. That borders on underachievement, until you consider a little overseeding likely was at work there. Nobody does a better job of schedule to exploit the RPI than assistant athletic director Larry Keating.
4/ Since 2004, 1 seeds only make FF 35.7% of the time. Just like bubble, people are over-obsessed with 1 seeds— Mike Vest (@mike_vest) March 26, 2017
Some things in sports pitch tents in people’s minds and never leave and this is one of them. Another example: McKenzie Calvert’s playing time was cut back after the Dec. 9 incident at the Yacht Club that resulted in Josh Jackson being charged with doing less than $1,000 in damage to her car. False. Calvert averaged 22.9 minutes in her next 11 games and her playing time wasn’t cut until her performance dropped off. Yet, I turned on ESPN one day and heard it being stated as fact, as it has been in print in various outlets. Once a narrative gets on down the road, it’s too inconvenient for some to stop it with facts and it takes on a life of its own.
In a couple of radio appearances the day before KU’s loss to Oregon, I shared my theory as to why Kansas has an unfair reputation as tournament underachievers. I believe it dates back to back-to-back first-round losses to Bucknell and Bradley in Self’s second and third seasons. It was so unusual for a blue blood to take back-to-back hits like that and it stayed in everybody’s brains.
Self’s 2-5 record in Elite Eight games at KU is not good any way you slice it, but it also demonstrates that he has reached the Elite Eight in 50 percent of his seasons at Kansas, an amazing success rate.
Josh Jackson grew up a fan of Michigan State’s winning basketball program and played a huge part in knocking the Spartans out of the NCAA tournament.
Now it’s Landen Lucas’ turn to do the same to the team for which he rooted.
A native of Portland, Lucas’ father, Richard Lucas, a 6-foot-7 center, played at Oregon from 1987 through 1991. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds as a senior, 10.9 and 8.6 as a junior.
Richard wore an Oregon shirt and cheered for the Ducks throughout Thursday's one-point victory against Michigan.
“He had a Kansas shirt under it so he took that off and supported us,” Landen said after Kansas blew out Purdue in the second half Thursday night in Sprint Center. “I told him he needs to get rid that for the next 48 hours.”
Richard tweeted about how his no-lose situation.
Blood is thicker than water, even for a man who doubles as a Duck.
“Obviously, he should be rooting for us in this matchup,” Landen said. “It’ll be nice to play against them.”
Foul trouble limited Lucas to 20 minutes against Purdue, so he should be fresh, even after battling Purdue’s massive post players.
"I grew up watching them all the time, big fan," Landen said. "I’ve watched them a lot. They’re a good team, an athletic team. I feel like we match up well with them, they match up well with us.”
“I’m just going to play my game and I won’t try to force anything, but it’s going to be fun,” Lucas said. “And I’m obviously going to be ready to go because it’s the Final Four on the line, but it does add a little to it because it’s my dad’s school.”
Competitors don’t look at the other side’s strengths and view them with fear. Instead, they see them as opportunities to beat the best.
Purdue has a bigger, more physical front line than any team Kansas has faced, and 6-foot-9, 250-pound Caleb Swanigan is the most productive post player in the nation.
“This is exactly what I like,” KU senior Landen Lucas said. “I couldn’t think of any matchup that I would enjoy more than this, so I’m looking forward to it.”
He wants to play as much as possible and watch as little as possible, one more reason he will try to solve the puzzle of playing a physical brand of basketball without getting into foul trouble.
“It’s tough,” Lucas said. “It really depends on how the refs are calling it. Hopefully, they’ll let us play. If they do and they let me play the way I want to, that’ll be good. And if not, I’ll have to make in-game adjustments.”
He makes those with his ears as much as anything.
“If they’re calling it really tight, I’ve had games where I’ve let that affect me a little about taking away aggressiveness,” Lucas said. “The best I can do is listen to what they’re saying. A lot of times the refs are pretty good, especially after calling a couple of fouls and talking to you, letting you know where you could ease up a little bit more. If you just pay attention to what they’re saying, it makes it easier to adjust.”
Swanigan is a skilled passer who does a great job of passing from the post to the open 3-point shooter. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and especially Lagerald Vick haven’t always done a great job of recovering to shooters after helping out in the post.
Lucas did a nice job of explaining the key to helping without hurting.
“The big part of that is being in the initial position. If your body is already in the right spot to help, it’s easier to recover to your man afterward,” Lucas said. “If you’re helping as an afterthought, a lot of times the momentum of your body is going in the wrong position and it’s hard to get to shooters. So if everybody is in the right position to start, it’s easier to get back to the man.”